Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, November 5th, 2012

A throw of the dice will never eliminate chance.

Stephane Mallarme

East North
East-West ♠ Q 10
 J 8 5
 A 8 4
♣ Q J 10 5 2
West East
♠ J
 K 9 6 4 3
 J 10 5
♣ 8 7 4 3
♠ A K 9 6 5 4 2
 10 7
 7 3 2
♣ 6
♠ 8 7 3
 A Q 2
 K Q 9 6
♣ A K 9
South West North East
Dbl. Pass 4♣ Pass
4 Pass 5 All pass


In a recent Junior European Championship the Greek team, sitting North-South here, put in a serious entry for the luckiest board not only of the tournament but of the decade! The defense can cash out spades against three no-trump, while five clubs appears to have two top spade losers and an inevitable heart loser.

At the table, though, North’s conservative bid of four clubs set South up for his inspired bid of four diamonds, naturally raised by North to five diamonds. Remarkably, the 4-3 fit is the only available game for North-South because of the spade ruff in the short trump hand. When West led a spade, East won the spade king, cashed the next spade, then played a heart.

However, declarer simply refused the heart finesse and ruffed a spade in dummy, bringing his total to 11 tricks: four diamonds, five clubs, the heart ace and the spade ruff. Of course he needed to guess the trumps well, since when he led the third spade from hand and West ruffed in with the jack, declarer still had to find the trump 10, but he did so.

Note that if East had played back a heart before cashing the spades, it prevents the ruff in dummy. However, declarer would simply have taken the heart ace, drawn trump, and discarded two spades on dummy’s clubs before setting up a heart. Similarly, if the opening lead had been a minor, South would have cashed three rounds of trump and again discarded his spades on dummy’s clubs.

This is a penalty double, suggesting your partner has a strong club holding and upwards of a strong no-trump. So lead your singleton club, and hope to get the suit going. If your partner had values and short clubs, he would have doubled one club initially.


♠ J 8 5 3 2
 A 9 3
 J 10 5 2
♣ 7
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1 NT
Pass Pass Dbl. All pass

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Michael BeyroutiNovember 19th, 2012 at 11:58 am

Dear Mr Wolff,
let’s turn LWTA into BWTA: I am suprised by your answer. I always thought North’s Double is a balancing double, for takeout. Never thought of it as penalty. 9 to 11 HCP, didn’t act on the first round….
Could you please explain how and why my partners and me have been playing it wrong for so long. I was truely taken aback. Especially that if North has the hand you say he has, he could have overcalled 1NT immediately, or doubled first then bid NT.
Most good players say “you have to balance even with 9 points”. Why isn’t this a balancing situation? Would it be different if the opening bid had been a major? Thanks for your kind reply.

AviNovember 19th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Dear Mr Wolff

I feel like I might be missing something, but I’ll state my opinion anyway.
Couldn’t the contract be defeated if at trick 2 E continues with his single club?
If South draws trumps he can’t ruff the third spade, and if he doesn’t draw trumps, he can be either crossruffed or will have to concede 2 spades and a heart.

Bobby WolffNovember 19th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Hi Michael,

First, thanks for your to the point question, one where many readers may be awaiting the answer.

For many years, going back close to the early beginnings of contract bridge, when the player behind the opening bidder originally passed, but when the opponents might have settled in. such as the sequence given or even if his RHO had rebid 2 clubs, a double by him was always thought to represent penalties.

Usually it occurred over the opener’s major and either the opening bidder’s subsequent pass to a NF 1NT or a rebid of 2 of the major, but in either case a then double by the original 2nd seat player was for penalties and, in those days (and still now) would show what would was then called a “trap pass”.

An example, in today’s hand would be: Ax, AKx, xxx, KQJ9x, but in the case of RHO opening 1 spade and rebidding 2 spades something like KQ109x, Axx, Ax, xxx.

The idea in the 1st case is not only to increase the penalty expected, but to insure a club lead, which, in some cases, might even be necessary to just set the hand. In my second example above, since I am on lead, the idea is only to tell the opponents (and my partner) that they have made a mistake, and I hope to take full advantage of it by getting a much larger penalty than we would without the finishing penalty double.

The idea behind this bridge logic, is perhaps twofold: 1. Immediate doubles are, of course, takeout, and with the right distribution, short in partner’s suit and all other suits covered, can be done (and are) with as few as perhaps ten (or even nine)+ HCP’s and 2. When holding giant holdings in the opponents opening bid suit, it is usually wise to merely pass, rather than to attempt 1NT which, because of position (behind the opponent’s opening bid) will likely succeed in scoring up the contract, but, at the same time, miss out on a sometimes very lucrative penalty available to one who has the patience to wait and merely pass the 1st time. Also, after passing, if the opponents then find a fit in another suit, merely pass and hope to set it, but also become advantaged because your side has not given the declarer the extra advantage of knowing where the cards and distribution are located.

If, you as 2nd seat, are dealt something like: Axxx, Kxxx, Jxxx, x and pass behind the opening club bid and hear 1NT by your LHO P, P, back to you and being NV and having the urge to bid, try 2 clubs which partner will be able to read as TO, because of the at least semi-length he is sure to have in clubs combined with the always present logic available on every bridge hand.

In my earlier partnerships, we used to play after 1 of a minor P 1NT by the opponents P, P, back to me that 2 clubs by me is general TO, echoing what I have suggested above.

Bridge bidding has progressed greatly through the many years since it was invented, but it never hurts to review what was played (and still is by many) years ago and the reasons for it. At any rate, it is usually unwise to dismiss out of hand any treatment which was used more or less universally, unless significant respect to those old ideas are, at the very least, considered.

Bobby WolffNovember 19th, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Hi Avi,

Nice try, but, in this case, the bulls-eye is elusive, and the declarer succeeds.

Declarer wins the club in hand, draws trump, discards his 2 losing spades on the good clubs and merely concedes a heart, contract made.

ClarksburgNovember 19th, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Mr. Beyrout: Thanks for asking the question!
Mr. Wolff: Thanks for the definitive answer ( for which I, an eager intermediate club player, was one of those waiting).
This exchange was terrific as a learning experience.

Jane ANovember 19th, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Thanks for the detailed explanation, and what Bobby says makes great sense as long as you are Bobby or his partner, who are all experts. I would not have passed one NT doubled because my partners and I play this as takeout, so it would have to be partnership agreement/understanding and great trust, I would think. With the first example given, my one NT bid would have been on the table faster than greased lightening. Perhaps there is a game, maybe in spades? Partner can’t see the cards until they hit the table. Granted, the greased lightening might strike the wrong way, but it is a bidder’s game these days. The second example is clearer to me, but once again, partner has to figure out to pass, which is a bit easier this time.

Where is that lemonade?

Bobby WolffNovember 19th, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

It is your appreciation and especially your attitude which makes these bridge forums, at least to me, more than worth it.

Bridge, like many other subjects, has been going through evolutionary changes, not all of them for the better and without fear of contradiction, at the least, not perfect.

It then is up to the player or partnership itself to determine what best suits their combined personalities and after agreement, decide on their choice of meaning. These discussions, not necessarily the specific one nor the result decided, tend to determine the eventual effectiveness of the bridge marriage.

Bobby WolffNovember 19th, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Hi Jane,

I also need a swig of that lemonade.

One reason for the sometimes vast differences in the so-called expertise of many players all of us confront at local (and higher rated) tournaments throughout ACBL land is because of the varied routes which are taken to first learn and then improve in our beloved game.

When bridge was in its heyday, perhaps in the 1950’s when Charles Goren’s picture adorned the cover of Time magazine, bridge bidding which I fully admit, cannot hold a candle to how much it has improved since then, there were various home brew bridge bidding theories, many of which did not eventually qualify as sensible enough and thus, at least for those which didn’t, died out abruptly.

However, a few old time thoughts remained, in spite of later high-level objections, and some of those (the one which was mentioned above would be, at least to me, a prime example) and bridge logic which should have endured and thus be present still.

No doubt, like you said, bridge is a bidder’s game, and should be recognized as such. However, isn’t what I suggest (and, as you imply, it is very necessary for it to be discussed by would be partners) more logical to throw the bait in the opponent’s (your) web and use this bridge ambush to best advantage.

Then, if done, we can all fully agree that the more bridge changes, the more it stays the same, with the desire to get the very most out of what is dealt to us.

Being a very tough opponent has always been a very desirable name to be called by players playing under a different flag.